Christine and the Queens’ last record, Redcar les adorables étoiles (prologue), was a lengthy and labyrinthine concept album wrapped around a fuckboy alter ego. It should have been fun, but the music was plodding and unwieldy, with none of the ebullience that has become Chris’ trademark, and the lore of the mysterious, begloved Redcar overpowered the music itself. Paranoïa, Angels, True Love thankfully sheds some Redcar impulses—Chris is no longer hiding behind a persona nor flanking supermodels—but retains its complex framework. Across 20 songs, he weaves intimate revelations about transition, sex, and grief into a three-part bilingual epic, incorporating Madonna on three tracks as the voice of an omniscient, artificially intelligent Eye.

Chris’ syllabus for Paranoïa, Angels, True Love centers on Angels in America, playwright Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer-winning magnum opus, which follows a young man, Prior Walter, who is dying of AIDS in New York City in the late ’80s. Chris watched the 2003 miniseries adaptation of the play during the pandemic; he felt profoundly moved by its joyful ending, in which Prior refuses to bring about an apocalypse, begging instead for “more life.” “Subconsciously I picked that play because I wanted to manifest that for myself,” Chris confessed to Vulture.

He clearly sees the relevance of Kushner’s writing in this political moment. The expansive possibilities of gay life in the ’70s collapsed in the total ruin of the AIDS crisis; the Trans Tipping Point of the ’10s is a distant memory in our current discourse over puberty blockers, book bans, and Bud Light. Christine and the Queens’ early transmasculine anthems, like “iT” and “Girlfriend,” are irrepressible, carefree—diametric opposites of the tense depiction of trans life in Paranoïa, Angels, True Love. Chris wonders, in “He’s been shining for ever, your son,” if his mother is looking down from heaven, “for a daughter.” The break from romance and sex, for Chris as for Prior Walter, is fraught; lovers walk out or fail to satisfy. The human body is capable of betrayal, too. Prior hemorrhages blood and hides his Kaposi’s sarcoma beneath long sleeves. Chris, touching himself, is horrified to realize that “it’s all still there.” A heavenly body, by contrast, sounds terribly appealing.

But Chris does not organize these themes particularly well. He boasted about writing some of these songs in 20 minutes and recording all his vocals in single takes, immediately upon waking. Occasionally, there is a raw vulnerability to the delivery, the sleep audible in his voice. Sometimes, though, it means he simply doesn’t hit his notes. Frequently free-associating at the microphone, he lets several songs dissolve into wordless vocalization: either the echoing vowels of choirs in cathedrals or the sighs and half-formed words of lovers in bed. The sacred and profane, side by side, atop one another, always in excess.

Mike Dean’s production is extravagant, too: enormous, full of echo, and fiercely neutral. Snare drums skitter. Synths hum low, darkly, in contrast to the high, angelic humming of choirs. The keys and guitars have a saw-toothed, industrial quality. When these elements collide on the 11-minute “Track 10,” you can almost see Chris back-lit on a bare stage, smoke rolling low around his feet—a rockstar moment, but bare and unadorned. When A.G. Cook briefly takes over, 17 tracks in, for part of “Lick the Light Out,” his production is so effusive, so glittering and joyous, that it makes Dean’s work seem incomplete by comparison.

For every stunner—the Marvin Gaye-sampling “Tears Can Be So Soft,” the curious and searching “I Met an Angel,” the dusky doo-wop of “True Love,” featuring 070 Shake—there is a head-scratcher. What are we to do with “Full of Life,” little more than Pachelbel’s Canon played to completion over an incongruous vocal track? Why does the sexual anarchy of “Let Me Touch You” and “Aimer, Puis Vivre” fizzle into something so dull and disorganized? Think of those cold, pale Roman marbles, stripped, over millennia, of their paint. Paranoïa, Angels, True Love is a hall of those statues—not all fully formed, and often crying out for color.

In The World Only Spins Forward, Isaac Butler and Dan Kois’ oral history of Angels in America, Kushner tells of the 10 sleepless days and nights in which he wrote 700 longhand pages of Perestroika, the play’s second half, in a spider-infested cabin on the Russian River. At its very best, Paranoïa, Angels, True Love captures this feverish lightning-in-a-bottle energy. But where Kushner’s many moving parts lock into place, spurring each other on toward a harrowing, rapturous climax, the songs of Chris’s album never quite cohere. Moments of clarity and craftsmanship are undercut by extended periods of improvisation. The reason Angels in America captivates audiences, despite its length and density, is that Kushner returned home from the Russian River, pulled out his red pen, and edited. Paranoïa, Angels, True Love still feels like a first draft.

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Christine and the Queens: Paranoïa, Angels, True Love